September 04, 2010


Stephen Bly

Ruth Roach w/101 Ranch
She wants to be a cowboy girl,
And sit in the saddle tall
Wearin’ chaps and floppy wide-brimmed hat
When she gathers them cows in the fall

Oh, she wants to be a cowboy girl
With a whoop and a ty-yii-yea!
But she’s hopin’ that her mascara don’t run
And she ain’t havin’ a bad hair day!
©2002, Stephen Bly

Cowboy girls? Why not call her a cowgirl? That’s because for the first half of the 20th Century, they didn’t call themselves cowgirls. They insisted on the term cowboy girl.

I like it.

You can usually spot the era of a cowboy girl by the hat she wore. In the early 1900s, cowboy girls hats were wide-brimmed, just like the fancy ones from Paris. Split skirts were acceptable. If a gal had the nerve to wear pants, she was a real daredevil.

Cowboy girls’ hats got even bigger in the 1920s. By then they were active in rodeos. Not just racing around barrels, but riding bucking stock as well.

By the late 1940s and early 1950s, cowboy girl hats were changing. By 1960 small hats worked good on barrel racers.

Charmayne James
These days, cowboy girls wear the same hat as the cowboys. If she is a pro barrel racer like the legendary Charmayne James (on the smartest barrel horse of all times—Scamper), she’ll wear a black, beaver-felt, Resistol hat. Janet & I enjoyed watching Charmayne win several national championships. Her autographed photo hangs on the wall of our bunkhouse. And Charmayne happens to be from New Mexico…the setting of my newest novel release, Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon.

 Cowboy girls and ranch women differ in types.  Thousands of gals labored  alongside their dads, brothers, or husbands . . . doing the same jobs and often wearing the same attire. But those that wanted to get into rodeos . . . or the Wild West shows, adapted their clothing to a more dramatic look than the flannel shirt and denim trousers of the ranch women.

Female Trick Rider
I love the era of the “cowboy girls.” They rode wild bulls . . . jumped horses off  high platforms into tanks of water . . . and did trick riding that often shamed the men.  They could outride, outshoot and outshine any male. Ruth Roach (see pic) carried on that tradition for the famous “101 Ranch Wild West Show.” 

Two weeks ago I bought a nice little Winchester 1892 44 WCF short rifle that is marked “101.” There’s no way to prove it, but I’d like to think Ruth herself carried and shot it in the show from time to time.

The horse industry today is based on a young girl’s love for horses.  The thrill she feels with a 1200-pound equine beneath her and her long hair flagging in the wind.  Everyone of those little darlin’s owes a debt to the cowboy girls who made riding and competing fun, full of adventure, and classy.

Stephen Bly
A tip of my Resistol to the cowboy girls.


Caroline said...

Loved the post. To us un-cowboy cowgirls :) their stunts are daring and beautiful. Thanks for posting this topic.

Stephen Bly said...

Caroline: Thanks for the note. It's getting harder to find those cowboy girl pictures anywhere. They're very rare...and collectible!
On the trail,

Heidiwriter said...

I too have a great fondness for the "cowboy girls" of yesterday (my grandmother was one of them!

Kameko said...

Thoroughly enjoyed the post. Your writing evoked a picture of the cowboy girls of yesteryear in my mind. Now those were girls to be held up as roll models!



Stephen Bly said...

Heidi: Know you have many firsthand stories. Thanks for writing about what you know.
Kameko: Appreciate the note. Thanks!

On the trail,

Jenny said...

Really enjoyed this post as my daughter and I are currently reading Holly George-Warren's new book, The Cowgirl Way: Hats Off to America's Women of the West. It's written for kids in the elementary grades and has a lot of interesting history and some really neat pictures in it...although I've only found the term "cow-boy girl" used once.